“I fight from victory, not for victory.
(Lysa TerKeurst, Uninvited)
“I fight from victory, not for victory.
(Lysa TerKeurst, Uninvited)
Preparing for storm season is part of life in Kansas. Powerful storms and tornadoes are usually the first thing that comes to mind whenever people think about my beloved home state. Even when I was in Ireland, once people realized where I was from, the first thing they asked about was if I had experienced storms.
It was either the tornadoes or The Wizard of Oz. No, I don’t have a dog named Toto. No, I don’t have ruby red slippers. Sorry to disappoint.
Tornadoes are scary things, which is why preparing for storm season matters. I’ve never been in a tornado per se, but I’ve been close to them. I’ve seen them from a distance, and I’ve felt the frightening stillness that proceeds one. I’ve witnessed hail that broke windows and shattered vinyl siding. I’ve seen torrents of rain that washed away roads and drowned wheat crops. And I’ve walked in the debris and rubble of the aftermath. Powerful, dangerous, deadly—tornadoes pose a terrifying threat to people who aren’t ready for them.
In the last ten years, tornadoes have started venturing out of their traditional habitat, the central plains and Midwest. States like Missouri and Massachusetts and Alabama and Georgia have started seeing tornadoes more frequently, and the damage they do is unprecedented. Why? Because few in those parts of the country have ever experienced a storm like that before, and preparing for storm season isn’t something they think about.
In May 2011, an EF5 tornado slammed into Joplin, Missouri. Officially, 158 people died, and more than 1,100 people were injured.
Four years earlier, in May 2007, a gigantic EF5 wedge tornado struck the small Kansas town of Greensburg and leveled 95% of it. The tornado itself was wider than the town. Eleven people died.
It was a similar-sized tornado, although the size of the cities was vastly different. So how can one city have seen so many die while the other only a fraction? That’s not to minimize the deaths of 11 people. Any death is tragic. But what made the difference?
There were many reasons, but I wonder if one has to be that the Joplin tornado of 2011 was only the third tornado to hit the city since 1971. That’s three tornadoes in 40 years. Greensburg, on the other hand, probably has at least one close call per year.
People in Greensburg were prepared. They had shelters, safe places, basements. They listened to the warnings and knew what to do and where to go. They were ready.
You can’t expect people who’ve never experienced a tornado to know how to withstand one.
Preparing for storm season is a great idea, but we don’t face tornadoes every day. Those aren’t the storms I’m talking about. Jesus told His disciples that facing trouble and storms in this life is something they should expect (John 16:33), and that holds true for us today. So many times, Christians think that life is going to go well for them. We expect to enjoy blessings and good harvests and problem-free lives, and to a certain extent, we are supposed to expect those things. But not from life.
Expect good things from God, but there’s no good thing that comes from life (James 1:17) . Anything good in life is from the Lord directly.
Instead, we’re supposed to expect trouble (1 Peter 4:12). We’re supposed to be on the lookout for storms. This truth shows up in Scripture over and over again. Think of Jesus’ story about the two men who built houses (Matthew 7:24-27). The foolish man built his house on sand; the wise man built his house on the rocks. And when the storm came, the foolish man’s house collapsed.
Storms will come in our lives. There’s no escaping them. So instead of denying that they’re possible or trying to outrun them, isn’t it better to prepare for them?
Build your life on a solid foundation (1 Corinthians 3:10). When you’re putting down the bedrock of your life, be sure you’re building on unchanging truths. God is good. Jesus saves you. The Holy Spirit will guide you. And He’s working everything for our good and His glory, regardless of what it may feel like right now. If that’s your foundation, no storm can collapse it. Sure, the wind might rattle the glass, but your house will stand.
Have a safe place to run (Nahum 1:7). Storms hit us in every moment of our lives, and we need to be ready to run to God for help. Throw your worries to Him. Let Him carry the weight of your burdens. Stop trying to carry it yourself or stand up against the wind on your own strength. Rest in His strength.
Hear His instructions and obey (Psalm 32:8-10). God has given us the Bible so that we know what’s right. He teaches us how to live, how to be blessed, how to be wise. But many times, we just hear and don’t put what we’ve learned into practice. You have to do both (James 1:22).
When the sky goes dark and the wind starts to blow, when thunder is rumbling so loud that it shakes you, it can be terrifying. And you can feel alone. But don’t. Because you’re not. And preparing for storm season means you don’t have to be afraid.
Life works the same way. If you’re a Jesus-follower, storms are going to fall on you. But you don’t have to be afraid of them. God’s already given you everything you need to withstand them. You just have to use it.
I have been frustrated. I’ve been disappointed. I’ve been tense. But I can count on my hand the number of times I’ve been angry. It just doesn’t happen often. It’s not my personality. But when I do reach the point where anger hits me, I have a hard time getting rid of it.
Maybe it’s a lack of experience. Maybe it’s a character flaw. Either way, I don’t like it.
And while I hate to admit it, I’m angry. And I’ve been angry for several months, no matter how hard I’ve tried to let it go or give it to God or stop fixating. The anger just stays, cemented in my heart, strapped to my shoulders.
Anger is like a dark, stifling cloak that weighs you down. Have you ever worn a woolen coat in summertime? That’s what anger is for me. It’s vexing, exhausting, and it makes me say and do things I would never say or do. Anger turns me into someone I’m not, even if it’s righteous anger. Regardless, once it gets its hooks in me, how do I escape?
Ephesians. That’s all I really need to say. I never thought Ephesians was a book about anger management, and maybe it’s not. But it has a lot to say about being angry, and it has even more to say about being in relationships with people who make you angry. The chiefest of which is the fact that people aren’t our enemies (Ephesians 6:12).
For a moment, set aside the emotion. Push the crushing hurt and the sting of betrayal aside. Let the memory of what people have done to you fade for a second. And think.
Christ-followers have an enemy, and it isn’t each other. The enemy hates us. He will do anything to get us to destroy each other, to turn against each other, to wreck each other’s testimonies. And the most effective weapon to hurt a Christ-follower is another Christ-follower.
Show me a damaged Christian, and I’ll show you another Christian who thought they were doing the right thing.
But once you’re hurt, once the damage is done, what do you do with the anger? It doesn’t matter if they were right or wrong. That’s no longer the issue. The issue you’re facing now is how do you move on? How do you recover? How do you heal? And how do you forgive?
First, recognize that your anger can control your actions, but you don’t to let it (Ephesians 4:26). You always have a choice. You can be angry but refuse to act on that anger. You can choose to do what is right, what is good, what is honorable, and what brings glory to God even if you’re angry.
Second, be kind (Ephesians 4:31-32). Be kind to the people who hurt you. Be kind just in general. You won’t want to be. You’ll want to snap at everyone. You’ll want to hurt other people so that they feel what you feel, whether they’re the ones who hurt you or not. But think about that sort of behavior. If you use your anger as an excuse to attack other people, you’re saying that you deserve better treatment than Jesus.
Jesus had every right to demand honor and glory, but He didn’t. He could have commanded all mankind to bow at His feet, but He chose not to. Jesus was God. Jesus is God. But when people lied about Him, tried to ruin His reputation, hurt Him, and betrayed Him, did He turn against us? Did He lash out against His accusers? Did He snap or speak harshly to His followers? (Philippians 2:5-11)
No. So if Jesus didn’t get special treatment, you shouldn’t expect it either. (John 15:18)
We should never aspire to anger, and we should never seek to be angry (James 1:19). Anger can be useful in certain circumstances, but it’s like trying to hold fire in your hand. It’ll spur you to action, but it will leave scars. Even passive anger, which is a thing, can cause damage—sometimes more than anything else, because passive anger can be passed off as concern or even love. But you can always tell the difference. Love always wants the best for someone else, and anger never does.
Choosing to put away the hurt inside should be easy, but it’s one of the hardest things you’ll ever do. It feels like giving up. It feels like letting the bad guy win. But that’s not what you’re doing. What you are doing by setting aside the anger and choosing to be humble is obeying (Colossians 3:12-14). And if there’s one thing I know for sure, it’s that God blesses obedience.
Are you angry today? I hear you. But you don’t have to stay there. Those people who hurt you, who made you feel this way, they aren’t your enemies. Our enemy isn’t someone we can see or touch, and that means we can’t fight him in our own power. That’s why we need God’s help. So instead of fighting back against what you can touch, fight back using the tools God has given you.
You have a choice. You can act on your anger, or you can be kind. What do you think Jesus would do?
What does grace look like? No, not a dancer. Not your friend named Grace. God’s grace, the gift He offers to us freely that forgives us from our sins and provides us with a second chance after we fail (Ephesians 2:8-9).
Grace, in a religious context, is always about God’s unmerited favor. It’s God giving us something we don’t deserve, something we could never earn or ever repay. Grace is even a cute churchy acronym: God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense. Nice. Sweet. Easy to remember. But what does it mean? What does it look like?
Maybe I’m too practical, but while the cute little mnemonics are nice for memory, what good will they do if I don’t know how to apply them? If grace is essential to following Jesus, I should know how to use it.
So many times, I think grace and forgiveness and trust all get muddled together, as though they’re synonymous, and nothing is further from the truth. Rather, they’re all part of a process that’s connected to following Jesus. But if you do all three at once, you’ll end up back where you started.
God demonstrated grace for us when He sacrificed Jesus to save us while we were His enemies (Colossians 1:21-22). Did you realize that? We hadn’t done anything good enough to deserve Jesus’ blood. We can’t ever do anything worth His sacrifice. That’s what makes it grace. That’s what makes it a gift. It’s undeserved.
That’s the picture of grace we’re supposed to use. Grace is loving people who don’t deserve your love. It’s showing compassion and mercy and kindness to people who have done absolutely nothing compassionate, merciful, or kind for you. Maybe they’ve even done the opposite. Maybe they’ve hurt you, lied about you, gossiped about you, but no matter what they’ve done to you, it doesn’t mean you can’t love them (Matthew 5:44).
No, you can’t love them in your own strength. The only way you can love people who’ve hurt you or betrayed you is with Jesus’ strength. Practically that’s going to look different in every situation. In some cases, loving someone means speaking kindly to them or about them. In some cases, loving someone will mean stepping away from them, getting out of their lives and letting them face the consequences of their actions without you there to soften the blow. But one aspect of loving someone remains constant: Forgiveness.
There’s something in our natures that wants to cling to old wounds—or even to new wounds. We think that holding on them will make us stronger somehow, that rehashing every cruel word or deed will provide us with wisdom to face the same situation again. My dear friends, that’s a lie. Going over those hurtful memories constantly doesn’t make you stronger. It only makes the tear in your heart wider and harder to heal. And maybe it will harden you, thicken your skin so that you can withstand future hurts, but you won’t be withstanding them with God’s power. And your power will ultimately fail.
Let it go.
Pry your fingers off those old wounds. Stop digging into them. And let God work. Recognize that whoever hurt you is imperfect, just like you. And maybe they’re wrong, maybe the enemy is using them as a sledgehammer to bludgeon you, maybe they need to face consequences for what they’ve done. But that’s not your job (Romans 12:19). Your job is to forgive. To take those hurtful words, that painful situation, that horrible memory and stop holding it against them.
I know. It’s impossible. But only if you try to do it alone. God has promised that He will give us strength to do impossible things (Philippians 4:13). Once you throw off the heavy burden of all that pain and grief and sorrow, you’ll truly be free.
Because if you forgive someone, doesn’t that mean they’ll hurt you again? Doesn’t that mean they’ll just repeat what they did before? Or maybe they won’t even stop. Maybe they’ll see it as a sign of weakness.
This is where Christians get so messed up. Forgiveness isn’t restoration. Forgiveness is choosing (sometimes daily, sometimes hourly) not to hold past sins against another person. But restoration is trust, and once trust has been broken, it must be earned back. The Bible tells us to offer forgiveness freely but to trust cautiously (Proverbs 4:23). Don’t just hand over what’s valuable to someone who will misuse it; you’re asking for trouble if you do (Matthew 7:6).
Be careful with people who have hurt you. They’ve done it once, and they may do it again. So think long and hard before you let them back into your life. That’s trust. That’s restoration. That’s wisdom. But that doesn’t mean you haven’t forgiven them.
Forgiveness means taking the hurt and the pain and the memory of what they did or said and turning it over to God. Stop turning it over in your mind. It’s not helping you. Capture each one of those damaging thoughts and choose to forgive. Move on. God’s got it. He knows the truth, and He’ll deal with each of us in His own time.
Regardless, extend grace to everyone (Romans 12:17-21), no matter who they are or what they’ve done. Always be kind. Always be truthful. Always think the best of others. Always help others. And don’t do it because you want to make them feel ashamed. Don’t do it out of some passive aggressive tendency to make them pay. Do it because you love them. Do it because that’s the way you’d want to be treated. Do it because tomorrow, you may be the one who has hurt someone else.
Following Jesus isn’t about you. It’s about Him.
I’m not a huge fan of airplane travel, mainly because it’s far less expensive to drive, but sometimes you have to fly. Like when I went to Ireland a few weeks ago. I couldn’t drive to Ireland (well, I could try, but I don’t think I would succeed).
As I sat and listened to the flight attendants run through their little spiel about airplane safety, I smiled when they got to the place about securing your own oxygen mask first. I was traveling with two other people on the way to Ireland, and I had laughingly joked with my sister-in-law that I’d need to make sure one of my travel buddies had her oxygen mask on if we crashed.
First, you secure your own and make sure that you are breathing. Then, you help the people around you, children, the elderly, or generally distracted (but totally adorable) traveling companions. It’s a two-step process. First, take care of yourself. Then, take care of those around you.
The problem I usually have (when I’m not flying on an airplane) is that I skip ahead to step two without doing step one. I tend to want to take care of everyone around me first before seeing to my own needs. I want to help people, and I don’t want myself to get in the way. But it’s too much for one person to do alone, and I exhaust myself. (Exodus 18:14-18)
I’ve spent years telling myself this fact over and over again, but only recently did a new way to think about it occur to me. Using airplane oxygen masks correctly is a process.
In an emergency situation on an airplane, you can’t just randomly try to help everyone around you. You’ll be in the way of people who are trained for that situation, and you’ll do more damage than you prevent. You’re supposed to stay seated. The best way for you to help those around you is to first take care of yourself.
That goes against my personal programming, but if I don’t first make sure that my thoughts are clear, I can’t guarantee that I’ll be of help to anyone. The truth is, if I don’t take care of my own needs first in that sort of situation, I won’t be able to help anyone around me.
If we accept that concept on an airplane, why can’t we accept it in our everyday lives?
I’m talking to myself here. I run myself ragged for the benefit of others. I wear myself down and work my immune system to its lowest point for the sake of those around me. It’s how I’m wired. But I need to start looking at taking care of people as a two-step process.
If I want to help others, I need to take care of myself first. I need to sleep, to eat properly, and take care of my physical and spiritual needs first. Granted, that doesn’t mean I completely ignore people who need help, but before I work myself to exhaustion helping the helpless, first I need to make sure I’m strong enough to be of service. And this isn’t just something I’m making up. This is a biblical principle! (Ephesians 5:29-30)
As Christ-followers, we are called to serve others but not at the cost of our relationship with God or our physical health. Life is a balance between being a good steward of what God has given us and giving sacrificially so that others can share our blessings.
Wearing yourself out helping others may be a noble concept, but it’s not practical or healthy. And it’s not what God intended for us. (1 Corinthians 6:19-20) If you really want to help others to the best of your ability, first take the time to make sure you are taking care of yourself.